I always loved passion fruit and since I am in Laos, I have become the all-time biggest passion fruit juice consumer. The mix of tart and sweet served ice cold makes the perfect refreshing beverage for me in the hot and sticky climate and while it is also in Asia one of the more expensive fruits, it is still far cheaper than in Europe.

As hardly anyone in Thakhek knows English, the only hindrance to my indulging in the pleasure of passion fruit juice is my still non-existent Lao language skill. A few weeks ago, I tried to buy a passion fruit juice from a lady at a market stall in Thakhek. This is how the interaction went (read line by line from left to right):

What I thought I said in LaoWhat she probably heardWhat she probably saidWhat I thought I understoodWhat we did
(I’d like a) passion fruit juiceLemon juiceLemon juice?Passion fruit juiceI nod, she starts preparing a green mixture.
(Is this a) passion fruit juice?Lemon juice?This is lemon juicePassion fruit juiceI shake my head in disbelieve. She looks at me questioningly.
(I’d like a) passion fruit juiceLemon juiceThis IS lemon juice!Passion fruit juiceShe continues with the green mixture (probably lemon with mint). I search among her fruit display and point at a passion fruit.
(I’d like a) passion fruit juiceLemon juiceThat is not lemon, that is passion fruit…. passion fruit … passion fruit …I nod vigorously and continue pointing.
So you want passion fruit juice?Passion fruit juiceI continue nodding and pointing and should have shut up.
(I’d like a) passion fruit juiceLemon juiceNow, what do you want, you silly woman, make up your mind and stop wasting my time!???I sheepishly point again at the passion fruit and decide to revert to sign language for the rest of day. She starts preparing my passion fruit juice whilst giving me a Lao pronunciation lesson.
Lemon is pronounced lemon, and passion fruit is pronounced passion fruit. Lemon, passion fruit, lemon, passion fruit.… passion fruit … passion fruit … passion fruit … passion fruit…I hand her a big note that I don’t have to ask how much it is. She gives me my change and I see her shake her head in desperation while I walk away.

 

Recently, in Vientiane, I walk into a fruit juice shop:

Me (in perfect Lao): Do you have passion fruit juice?

The young woman behind the counter, beaming at me (there are many more tourists and foreigners in Vientiane and they don’t usually speak Lao as it is much easier to get by with English than in Thakhek): We have!

Me, beaming as well: Ok, one passion fruit juice.

The young woman: To go?

Me: To go. How much is it?

The young woman: 10’000 kip.

I hand her the exact money and take a seat to wait while she prepares my juice. I am very proud of myself, having conducted a whole conversation in Lao. While I am still musing if this might be interpreted as a sign that I am starting to settle in in Laos, the young woman hands me what I ordered. I walk out with a lemon juice.

 

PS: Passion fruit is “mak nood” (like aw in law) and lemon is “mak nao” in Lao. Seems totally different when it is written out like this. It is totally different to Lao people when they speak. The way I hear it when Lao people speak: totally the same. The way Lao people hear it when I speak: well, never mind.

 

 

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About the Author

Korean-born Swiss, living currently in Thakhek, Laos.



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